After The Business of Fashion’s 500 gala in Paris on Monday night, Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond took to Instagram stories to criticize BoF founder Imran Amed and his publication’s “shallow approach to inclusivity.” The event which aimed to celebrate diversity in fashion was called out for its alleged cultural appropriation and exploitation. Specifically, the backlash stemmed from the belief that black talent is often mistreated within the fashion industry as a trend. The two-day event included a symposium held in Paris where a black gospel choir seemed to be “…used out of context as a backdrop for a mostly white audience…,” according to former Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth in a newly published BoF article.
Jean-Raymond’s criticism elaborated that there was more than met the eye. In a Medium post titled ‘Business of Fashion 500 is now 499’ in reference to his spot on the annual BoF 500 list of fashion personalities, Jean-Raymond called out Amed for exploiting specific ideas and failing to credit him. Last year, Jean-Raymond was also a part of a panel at BoF’s VOICES conference which aimed to bring forward conversations regarding inclusion. The designer wrote that the panel was where his disapproval started as people of color were grouped together to “…speak all together in the commonality of [their] blackness and force [them] to disagree on stages in public.”
Amed responded by expressing his passion for diversity in a letter on BoF, highlighting his own experience as someone who’s gay and was “the only brown kid” growing up. Furthermore, Frédéric Hodgi, the president of the gospel choir that performed at the event, also expressed his shock towards the backlash. “For [Kerby], there was an appropriation of black culture only for trade purposes; of course, I respect his point of view but the fact is that it’s not ours,” wrote Hodgi. “Most of the people in my choir are black … we all know our past, our history. But we didn’t feel like we were exploiting at all while we were singing. For us to sing there last Monday night was like celebrating love, diversity, freedom, respect.”
In the same article published on BoF, however, Jean-Raymond’s comments were met with support by other influential fashion insiders including designers Phillip Lim, Prabal Gurung, and model Joan Smalls, with the latter commenting “Diversity when it’s convenient to them” in response to Jean-Raymond’s criticism.
Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner believes Amed’s inadequate approach could have been easily avoided with a more thoughtful response. Instead, his lack of sincerity could set a negative precedence in which young designers will hesitate to speak up in the future. “Young designers will look at that statement and will think, ‘I probably won’t get an apology either so I won’t speak up.’ It’s disappointing because it’s a ripple effect on everything we do,” she said. “It’s 2019 and if we want to get anywhere with these kinds of things, you just have to say ‘I’m sorry, I messed up, and I want to do everything to fix it.'”